Seanad Éireann - Volume 162 - 27 January, 2000

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1, the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill, 1998, Second Stage, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and contributions of other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes. Senators may share time. Item 2, motion re the Appropriation Act, 1999, is to be taken from 1.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes. Business is to be interrupted at 3.30 p.m.

Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. Can the Leader indicate what legislation he intends to take this session? I asked him yesterday. He could either tell the House this morning or circulate the programme to the leaders.

[90] Mr. O'Toole: I wish to add to what I said yesterday as Senator Dardis reminded me that I should have welcomed the decision of the Tánaiste and the Government to bring forward the minimum wage legislation. I also welcome, as I am sure Senators Quinn and Ross do, today's Government announcement on union recognition and the need to get recalcitrant employers to make themselves available to the Labour Court in order that we can have proper industrial relations.

Mr. Ross: An interesting interpretation.

Mr. O'Toole: It is a progressive and positive step forward and one Senator Ross will welcome.

Mr. Costello: I am glad Senator O'Toole raised the matter of union recognition. It is something we have proposed for a long time and was the subject of a Private Members' Bill. We are delighted that at last there will be trade union recognition.

We are happy enough with the arrangements for the Order of Business but will the Leader clarify the situation regarding No. 3 on the Order Paper, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill, 1999, which was debated yesterday? The debate ended in some confusion last night as to how Committee and remaining Stages were to be dealt with and we should have some clarification from the Minister as to when it will be debated again.

Will the Leader consider a debate on Northern Ireland? Much has happened since we sat last. The Patten report has been implemented almost in full by the Secretary of State and it has caused considerable discussion. There is a new decommissioning deadline and there is also the matter of Deputies sitting in the House of Commons, which is also worthy of consideration. Considering the Agreement runs out at the start of May, we should take the opportunity to listen to the views of the House.

I know we do this on a regular basis, but will the Leader invite the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government with responsibility for housing to the House to discuss house prices? The rate of decrease has declined, according to the latest indicators, but they are still up 18% nationwide. Interestingly, there has been a significant increase in rural areas as opposed to urban areas, so it looks like the trend is reaching the country. This is a matter of serious concern to those looking for accommodation and there is also the problem of homelessness. I ask for an early debate on this matter with the Minister of State concerned.

Mr. Coghlan: Will the Leader inform us as to when copies of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts published before Christmas will be available to Members or have we been forgotten about?

[91] Will he also inform us when the Finance Bill will be published and if, when published, it will be the final instalment of the budget introduced in early December?

Mr. Quinn: Will the Leader consider holding not only one but a regular series of debates on inflation, the rate of which is fast increasing? I am not talking about a general economic debate but one on inflation. The significance of figures published in the past week or two is frightening. Inflation could stop the Celtic tiger in its tracks. House price inflation is running at 17%, oil prices are getting out of control and inflation in respect of factory gate figures on which our exports depend is running at 5%. Inflation in respect of consumer spending is running at 3%, a rate on the basis of which we would not have qualified to join the euro. There is a danger of an inflation epidemic. If inflation roars ahead, it could put a stop to our economic growth. I ask not only for a general economic debate but for us to consider the role the Seanad could play in this regard. It could become a focal point for drawing attention to this issue month after month. We could have a short debate each month concentrating on inflation. Will the Leader consider that proposal?

Regarding two measures initiated in the Seanad, I am glad the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, is determined that we should establish ourselves as an e-commerce centre. I congratulate her on that step. I also welcome the fact that the Minister will act to address the potential danger of the large number of motorists driving under a provisional licence who have not passed the driving test. These issues were raised in this House and these steps remind us we can initiate some action rather than just encourage movement.

Mr. T. Hayes: Will the Leader consider holding a debate on the recently published figures by the NRA and on the allocations to it that were announced with great fanfare? Almost every few months the NRA publishes figures and the public wonder what roads will be included under its projects, but it is merely re-announcing the same projects. I am concerned about that. A debate is required on road infrastructure and the problems associated with it.

Mr. Mooney: Will the Leader convey the congratulations of many people around the country to the Taoiseach on the Government's initiative in launching the building of a new national sports stadium that has been long overdue? I wish it well. Senator Hayes referred to the money being allocated for roads, but increasingly money has been allocated to sporting facilities.

Hooliganism on the terraces of many of our sports grounds has been a growing trend. Will the Leader ask the Minister to make a statement in this House on whether specific conditions should attach to future sports grants, which would pro-[92] actively encourage clubs to address this issue? I am thinking mainly of soccer clubs. I am a great supporter of Sligo Rovers, the nearest club to me. I go down there quite often and I brought my 12 year old daughter and nine year old neighbour's son to a cup match two weeks ago at which the amount of torrid abuse from a section of the home crowd was astonishing. We need to examine how this can be stamped out, particularly in light of the court case yesterday where a judge criticised a group of Bohemian football supporters for their attacks on Cork supporters at a recent game. This unwelcome trend, which was absent, seems to be creeping into Irish sport. There has been a great tradition of camaraderie between supporters of various sports. I would like to hear the Leader's comment on this matter.

Mr. Norris: I am sure the House would want to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to send congratulations to the Garda on the interception of a carful of bombs in Tipperary last week. That is a strong argument in favour of decommissioning. We all know there are a large number of arms dumps in the South and that they are in the control of the Provisional movement, but some of this material is leaking out to the splinter groups. There could not possibly be a stronger practical or political argument in favour of decommissioning. We need to urge people in the republican camp to do something about this, particularly in light of the Omagh bombing. Can they do any less than decommission?

I support what Senator Mooney said about the sports stadium that was announced. It is a most extraordinary gesture by J. P. McManus to give £50 million towards it and to make it a provision that his name should not be included in its title. It is an act of quite extraordinary generosity and I welcome it. Some time ago moves were made to try to attract the Olympic Games here but they were treated with derision. This kind of development makes that all the more possible in the future.

Mr. Farrell: Senator Quinn referred to action to address the potential danger of the large number of motorists who have not passed the driving test. Will the Leader hold a debate on the number of such motorists and include road safety and car insurance, as these elements are intertwined? It would be interesting to know the number of L drivers involved in accidents. Some years ago an amnesty was given to provisional licence holders who were given full licences without passing the driving test. Has research been carried out on the number of those motorists involved in traffic accidents as compared to motorists who passed their driving test? The driving test and the national car test were introduced to improve road safety, but such measures will not make an iota of difference to the price of car insurance or improve road safety. Road safety is not improved by what [93] people know about driving but by what they do when they are driving. They must use common sense.

An Cathaoirleach: These points can be raised during the debate for which the Senator is calling.

Mr. Farrell: I would like research to be carried out on the number of L drivers involved in accidents and how many of the motorists who got an amnesty in terms of not having to pass the driving test were involved in accidents compared to the number of motorists who passed their test at that time. The findings of such research would be interesting.

Mr. Ross: I support the call by Senator Quinn for a debate on inflation and its effect on the economy. That is something the Seanad could do effectively. Nobody is taking any notice of these alarming figures that are emerging. Nobody is being told the reasons this is happening. Nobody is saying that what will happen in the next few weeks in the circus that is taking place in Government Buildings will also be inflationary. If the unions are granted 15% over three years plus local bargaining agreements, we will have further inflation.

Mr. Ryan: That is rubbish.

Mr. Dardis: The price of newspapers will probably also increase.

Mr. Ross: I was about to pay Senator Ryan a compliment but I shall not do so now. We will have an inflationary situation which nobody in this House or in the other House will stand up against. It is important people should say that if the unions are granted 15%, that will reduce competitiveness in the economy and, with the inflation figures, it will mark the beginning of the end of the Celtic tiger. That is the danger we are in and that is why we should debate it.

Mr. Costello: This a major speech.

Mr. Norris: Has the Senator never made a speech?

Mr. Ryan: A speech gone wrong.

An Cathaoirleach: Order, please.

Mr. Ross: The other reason for inflation is our joining the euro, which nobody in this House will say because they were in favour of our doing so. Our inflation rate is now double the rate of any other EU member state. That is because we joined it without thinking and because Ireland does not matter to those who dictate the rate of the euro.

[94] An Cathaoirleach: We cannot pre-empt the debate which Senator Quinn is seeking.

Mr. Ross: The only criticism of the euro I remember from any party member of this House was from Senator Ryan. He should be complimented on that.

An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Ryan.

Mr. Cassidy: He is reading his newspaper.

Mr. Ryan: I suspect that remark is on the record.

Mr. Cassidy: I hope it is. The Senator's actions were totally inappropriate.

Mr. Ryan: I was referring to The Irish Times to confirm that Senator Ross was wrong. The annualised inflation rate in Ireland is 3.9%. The inflation rate in Spain is 2.8%. I am only an engineer and he is a business editor but 3.9% is not 2.8%. I know this because I can do simple multiplication.

Mr. Norris: It is a larger figure. Even I can see that.

An Cathaoirleach: It is not in order to have a debate on inflation on the Order of Business.

Mr. Dardis: Senator Ross was quoting the figures in the Irish Independent, not the figures in The Irish Times.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ryan on the Order of Business.

Mr. Ryan: What has happened to the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill? Emergency legislation to facilitate e-commerce will serve no purpose if we do not have the telecommunications infrastructure to accompany it. I suspect the Bill is being sat on because the Government is afraid that certain powerful independents believe it will give people the right to put telephone masts wherever they wish. We cannot have a sensible and modern telecommunications system if we do not have the infrastructure to accompany it. The Government must deal with this issue. It has been on the Order Paper for six months and the best the Leader can say is that it is not proposed to take it in the immediate future.

Regarding the request for a debate on inflation, like every other index of economic performance, or under performance, it is worthy of debate. However, I wish people in society would not try to pretend that it is caused by the fact that, for the first time in 25 years, lower paid people are in a position in the market to demand something like reasonable wages. They should not be turned into the cause of something that has been equally caused by the euro, energy [95] prices and the welcome increase in the price of cigarettes. Those factors contributed a significant part to last month's inflation figures and it is a small price to pay for a deterrent which might save the lives of thousands of people.

Mr. J. Doyle: When I spoke on the Appropriation Act before Christmas, I expressed my fear about the rise in inflation. Members who mentioned this issue this morning will have an opportunity to address it in the appropriate way in the debate this afternoon on the Appropriation Act.

Mr. Cassidy: Senator Manning requested the list of forthcoming legislation. It is expected that 19 Bills will be published between the start of the Dáil and Seanad sessions and the Easter recess. I will circulate the list later to the leaders and Whips of the various groups.

Senators O'Toole and Costello welcomed the Bill relating to the minimum wage. I wish to be associated with the Senators' comments and I look forward to the Bill's introduction in the House. Senator Costello asked about No. 3. It is anticipated that the Committee Stage debate will resume next Wednesday. Senator Costello also called for a debate on Northern Ireland and I will facilitate that request. The Senator asked too for a debate on house prices and housing in general and I will also accommodate that request.

Senator Coghlan asked about the Finance Bill. It will be published on 10 February. Regarding the report of the Committee of Public Accounts, I understand any Member who sought a copy received one. It is a simple matter of a telephone call.

Senators Quinn, Ross, Ryan and Doyle expressed concern about inflation. This matter is appropriate to the debate on the Appropriation Act which will continue from 1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. today. The debate will resume every Thursday afternoon for the next two or three weeks and I hope every Senator will make a contribution.

I agree with Senator Quinn that the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, has made e-commerce a priority over the past 18 months. The Minister should be congratulated in that regard. The Seanad afforded the Minister and Senators whatever time they needed to discuss this matter. I thank all Senators for their participation and congratulate the Seanad on the leading role it has played, in conjunction with the Minister, in highlighting and promoting e-commerce.

Senator Farrell called for a further debate on road safety. I will provide time for such a discussion. Senator Tom Hayes called for a debate on the report of the National Roads Authority. I understand there is an increase of 23% in the authority's allocation for this year which is welcome. My county, Westmeath, has responsibility [96] for the new motorways from Kilcock to Kinnegad, from Kinnegad to Athlone and from Kinnegad to the Longford border. Westmeath County Council has been given responsibility for approximately £580 million and it will head up the design team in the midland counties.

Mr. T. Hayes: There is huge—

Mr. Cassidy: Tipperary was always the premier county but it is nice that counties such as Westmeath, which are in the hidden Ireland, are being recognised. I thank the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, who is from our neighbouring county and who has major responsibility for this development.

Senator Ryan inquired about the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill. It is on the Order Paper and, when I am instructed by the Government, I will arrange for it to be taken in the House.

Ms O'Meara: It is still on the back burner.

Order of Business agreed to.